Sometimes I’m amazed at how much story Gourmet can make out of a simple plot point or cooking competition — most of our plots thus far have centered on either the successorship competition or the beef battle. I’ve got no problem with cooking contests, and they offer opportunities for lots of food theorizing (whether or not you buy the fancy explanations), but it’s nice to see the story heading in a new direction. Cooking competitions are now over, successorships determined, and the characters heading down new plot paths.
SONG OF THE DAY
Belle Epoque – “5월의 후유증” (The aftereffects of May). I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that the group’s first song “May,” aka That Chestnut Scene Song, was such a hit in last year’s Coffee Prince. Or mere coincidence? (You can download “May” on the Coffee Prince downloads page.)
[ Download ]
EPISODE 13 RECAP
Sung-chan and Jin-soo return to the mountain the next day with their (now-sober) guide, who shows them the tree he was talking about. They cut it down, prepare it, and put the wood into an oven to remain for the next week to make the charcoal. Sung-chan settles in to keep watch until the charcoal is ready; a plot contrivance (her boss insists she stay to get the story) leaves Jin-soo there with him.
Chef Oh has the same idea and takes Bong-joo to a charcoal maker, who has his eye on the same tree; when they arrive, they find that it’s already been cut down. Angered over territorial disputes, the man goes to fight it over with the other charcoal guy, and there the family has an awkward reunion.
Chef Oh is pleased to sit down for drinks with both his sons, although Bong-joo and Sung-chan remain quiet, feeling uncomfortable and guilty when their father explains that he’d wanted them to learn together and support each other, and wonders if it’s his fault things turned out this way. He reminds them that no matter what, they’re still brothers.
Sung-chan departs first, leaving behind a box for his father and brother. They open it to find the charcoal, and Chef Oh muses, “He must have felt bad about it.” They appreciate Sung-chan’s gesture of sharing, but Bong-joo tells his father that this wasn’t the charcoal he wanted in the first place, so they end up leaving it behind. Instead, Chef Oh teaches Bong-joo the secret recipe for making hyang-tan, the special charcoal historically reserved for royal use.
Beef battle. Suffice to say that the other two teams (of the four finalists) are negligible; they do a good but unremarkable job. Oonamjeong gains particular notice with Min-woo’s use of the special charcoal, which wins raves from the judging panel. Puffed up with pride, Min-woo gets wrapped up in pontificating on the merits of his special charcoal and lets the meat cook just a bit longer than perfect. However, the judges love his grilled beef and praise it highly.
In contrast, Sung-chan reserves the talking for afterward. He remains silent as he concentrates on his cooking, listening to the sound of the meat to get the grilling time absolutely perfect. He also notices that one judge is nursing a toothache and cuts his portion thinner, impressing the judges with his thoughtfulness.
Judging is based on several criteria: charcoal quality, grilling technique, and taste. With their superior charcoal, Oonamjeong gets scores of 10-9-9. However, Sung-chan’s cooking makes up for his less-special charcoal, earning 8-10-10: a tie. To break the tie, a fourth round is announced for the last two teams.
Bong-joo is displeased with Min-woo’s performance, noting that had he been more careful, they could have won. He takes over the chef position, determined to win the next battle. Both finalists take some time to research their potential dishes, which tests their inventiveness in creating a beef dish using whatever ingredients they wish. Bong-joo insults Ms. Jo with his “I don’t need your measly help” attitude, which is the last straw for her. She decides to quit.
Meanwhile, Sung-chan invites the neighborhood ajummas over for a tasting, after which he selects his entry: chadolbaegi insam naengchae, which is a prime cut of beef made with ginseng into a sort of salad. However, one ajumma interjects that normal people like her can’t afford to eat fancy dishes like that, which sticks in Sung-chan’s mind.
He reconsiders his tactics, wondering, “What’s so wonderful about making delicious food out of such expensive and refined ingredients?” Jin-soo tries to cheer him up, saying it’s not a bad thing to use expensive materials when this is the final battle of the challenge, but he continues to brood.
Min-woo takes Bong-joo’s entrance into the competition as a sign of losing faith in him, and drowns his sorrows bitterly. While talking to his sous chef, Min-woo mentions his plan to sabotage Sung-chan back in the days of the successorship competition, and how it would have worked if Seok-dong hadn’t found out and guarded the ingredients all night. Jin-soo, overhearing, finally puts the pieces together.
EPISODE 14 RECAP
Jin-soo asks Sung-chan to confirm the story she’s cobbled together from all the various bits of information she’s gathered. Sung-chan reacts with unexpected vehemence, telling her to drop the subject and never bring it up again; if she doesn’t abide by his wish, it’s possible he’ll end their friendship. Puzzled at his reaction, Jin-soo tries to make sense of all the pieces of her “Oonamjeong Mystery.”
The competition heats up with the inclusion of Bong-joo; now that Oonamjeong’s senior chef is representing the restaurant, it lends more weight to their position and shows that they’re taking this competition seriously.
Bong-joo has searched for a way to perfect his cream-based gochujang (hot pepper paste) sauce, using the cream to undercut the spiciness and give the sauce a richer taste that is more palatable to Western preferences. He uses the meat from the cow’s tail, combined with expensive ginseng and prepared on a special plate. Sung-chan, on the other hand, baffles the judges by making a variation on bulgogi (his goal is to make cheap ingredients taste expensive). His secret weapon is a special sauce taught to him by his father, which he adds in the last two minutes of the cooking round.
Judging. Both chefs impress, and are scored on four different points: taste, appearance, creativity, and marketability. In the first three categories, both chefs score perfect 10s. In marketability, however, Bong-joo beats Sung-chan, 10 to 8.
Sung-chan is disappointed at his loss, but bears it with good grace outwardly, congratulating his brother. Bong-joo (now that he’s secure in the win) tells Sung-chan he did a good job, and suggests that he return to Oonamjeong. Sung-chan says a good-natured goodbye, but doesn’t respond to that statement.
At home alone, however, Sung-chan takes the loss pretty hard. Sung-chan briefly contemplates moving to a new apartment building (his is being vacated by the landlord for construction), then decides to pick up and move on altogether. Thus when Bong-joo comes to take him back to Oonamjeong, he finds the apartment vacated and Sung-chan gone. Jin-soo also discovers this when she receives a short call from Sung-chan alluding to his departure but giving her no concrete explanations.
Bong-joo breaks ground on another Oonamjeong construction site, while Chef Oh finally decides it’s time end the uncertainty: he names Bong-joo his official successor, effective immediately. Perhaps ironically, despite Bong-joo’s initial desire to win his father’s approval, now that he has it, he’s less thrilled and more anxious to hear the announcement, protesting that he isn’t ready yet.
Chef Oh confides to Ja-woon that he’d expected Sung-chan to win the competition, and laments the judges’ shortsightedness in not seeing the brilliance of Sung-chan’s dish over Bong-joo’s.
Sung-chan returns to his former job, traveling to procure foodstuffs and selling them out of his truck. On one such outing, he returns to see an old lady rummaging through his truck and helping herself to groceries. He tells her she has to pay for them, and gets stuck driving around in circles trying to take her home.
It isn’t until after she’s thoroughly tried his patience with her difficult behavior that he realizes she’s senile (she wears a medical bracelet), and when they reach her home, he tries to let her go with just a warning. However, she’s taken to heart his admonitions of not stealing, and insists that she must pay, refusing to let him leave until she can find money for the groceries.
Meanwhile, Jin-soo travels on assignment to the countryside where tea is harvested, which is also where Ms. Jo (formerly of Oonamjeong) now works. While out among the crops, she’s stung by a bee, and brought back home with Ms. Jo to tend to her injury.
Jin-soo and Ms. Jo arrive home just as the senile old lady suddenly has a change of heart (change of personality, perhaps, or an abrupt snap into lucidity). She accuses Sung-chan of being a thief and hits him over the head, forcing him out of the house to land at Jin-soo’s feet.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Round 3 of the beef battle confirms the point that cooking is only as good as its weakest link, as Min-woo finds out firsthand. Although his cooking is praised and his grilled beef receives almost-perfect marks, he clearly makes a mistake, and worse yet, his mistake is an easily avoidable one. I wasn’t aware of this kind of cooking technique, but apparently the beef is at its best when none of its juices drip below to hit the charcoals, which presumably mars the ideal level of charcoal smokiness. This explains why Sung-chan concentrates so closely on listening to his grill; his attentiveness pays off with a perfectly cooked cut that earns him a 10 for technique.
Min-woo, on the other hand, lets the judges’ obvious admiration of the hyang-tan get to his head and distract him. Bong-joo notices Min-woo’s lapse in attention and holds him responsible for not winning the round, and even if the judges didn’t note anything wrong with the flavor of his meat, we can presume that it would have been even more wonderful had he not let flattery lull him into complacency.
Round 4: So what exactly IS the supposed brilliance behind Sung-chan’s final beef dish (above right)?
Sung-chan employs a similar theory to his earlier kimchi salad dish, wanting to incorporate an inexpensive ingredient and use the best of his techniques to make it taste as though it were made with the highest-grade items. Bong-joo wastes no expense making his dish refined and pricey, but Sung-chan puts (arguably) more thought behind the rationale behind the dish, not just the final product itself.
At first, everyone is puzzled as to his choice in making bulgogi, since it’s such a common, everyday food. Furthermore, he deliberately uses the cheapest cut of beef — the least tender, least special part of the cow. As Chef Oh and Ja-woon note later, the judges were so dazzled with Bong-joo’s style of cooking, which aims to make Korean food an international presence, that they didn’t give Sung-chan any credit for making a dish that would taste refined but be affordable to everyone who wanted to make it.
Ironic, then, that his low mark came on the “marketability” score, because one would think that being accessible would create a MORE marketable product, wouldn’t it? But perhaps it shows that the judges and Bong-joo are both thinking more in terms of prestige and image.
The food snobs in Bong-joo’s corner would have you believe that eating good food is an activity only to be enjoyed by those with refined palates. On the other hand, Sung-chan’s school of thought remembers that eating is above all a universal activity, and everyone has equal right to enjoy good food.
Not too much to say about Jin-soo and Sung-chan, but I do love this shot.
Their relationship is progressing pretty well — or was, before Sung-chan’s departure — in that it seems both of them are aware of the romantic undertones to their friendship although neither have openly addressed it. While Jin-soo is honest about her interest in Sung-chan (to herself; she hasn’t said anything to him), his interest is not yet at her level — he regards her with occasional annoyance, but now it’s tinged with affection more often than not.
It’s likely that the “Oonamjeong Mystery” proves to be the next obstacle between them, since he’s emphatic about wanting her to mind her own business about that. And clearly she was not made to mind her own business (furthermore, she’s being pressured by her boss to come up with a juicy story — even if one has to be made up).
Competition-wise, Bong-joo may have given Oonamjeong the win, but ironically I think his inclusion in the final beef battle was a sign of weakness. It shows a lack of confidence in themselves (why replace a chef if you were secure in your talents?), and also suggests that they consider Sung-chan a formidable enough threat that they were scared of losing. It could even be construed as unfair to swap chefs, even though it’s within the rules to do so. Their need to win is rooted in logical reasons — if they lose, Oonamjeong loses President Jang’s investment — but it’s not a great idea to let others see your desperation.
It’s also worth noting how differently Bong-joo and Sung-chan act while preparing for the showdown. Sung-chan feeds his neighbors and welcomes critique and commentary, choosing his dish based on their reactions. He listens when one person voices a complaint and racks his brains for a way to incorporate the comment successfully.
In contrast, Bong-joo sets out to recreate the perfect taste in his gochujang sauce, but rejects Ms. Jo’s help (even though this is her area of expertise). He treats her rudely and curtly dismisses her, content that he can find a solution on his own.
Ms. Jo is offended, which just adds to the growing discontentment at Oonamjeong. She muses that they’ve already lost Seok-dong (who never returned, despite Sung-chan’s insistence that he do so) and Dal-pyung, who’d been two of the more good-natured members of the staff. Oonamjeong is focusing on building their prestige, fame, reputation — and are losing their most down-to-earth members in the process. It’s rather like losing the soul of a company by going uber-corporate, cutting loose people who are actually its greatest assets and replacing them with soulless robots.
So while Oonamjeong did win the beef battle, it doesn’t necessarily spell out smooth sailing for them — they may have won the battle but they may still lose the war.